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Fundación Santillana Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes


Fictionalised Antiquity

Carlos García Gual

La Antigüedad novelada traces the evocations of the ancient world, both Greek and Roman, searching for the first examples of this type of literature in late antiquity, and later in the eighteenth century. The nostalgia of a prestigious past, the archaeological impetus, the taste for travelling to the ancient world, the wish to have a historical reconstruction more attuned to the intimate and to the spectacular, and in some cases a certain ideological slant, have determined the creation and the success of these stories where the historic and the fictional overlap so as to seduce the readers. Beyond the austere texts of the historians and the chroniclers, those fictions, through fantastical and sentimental tales, and sometimes even melodramatic, transmitted an image well tinted by the long resonant Antiquity.

The study focuses as much on the reception of these texts as on the personalities of their authors, and the attractiveness they had in their own time. It analyzes the most famous novels about the Greeks and Romans of the nineteenth century-from The Martyrs by Chateaubriand to Sienkiewicz's Qui Vadis?, and others like The Last Days of Pompeii, Salammbô, Marius the Epicurean or Ben-Hur-and it emphasizes the most significant lines of the genre  in our times. In the twentieth century, some of the original tendencies persisted, mixed in with some new ones, as was the case in novels as well-known as I, Claudius, Memoirs of Hadrian or The Ides of March. Those evocations of the ancient world are, in the author's opinion, invitations to a voyage to a distant past but still significant for the historical comprehension of our present.

The essay invites us to reflect upon the influence exerted by these fictional texts, which had so numerous and varied readers, to reflect on the views held of the ancient world in various moments in history. Lures and mirages, genre frames, Modernist snapshots, melodramas for the movies, these historical novels have a strange attraction. And the genre endures still today curious popularity, despite a general waning interest in the study of Ancient History. Additionally, while reviewing its plots and contexts, the essay hopes to underline the attractive side of it, the didactic and the fun side of this literary tradition, hardly studied as a whole.


Translated by Susana Torres

Book Details

La Antigüedad novelada (1995)
Carlos García Gual

Authors > Carlos García Gual

Carlos García Gual
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Carlos García Gual

(Palma de Mallorca, Spain, 1943). He is a professor of Greek Philology at the Complutense University of  Madrid, and one of the most representative figures of the Spanish cultural life. Among his numerous books of literary and mythological studies, the following deserve special mention: Diccionario de mitos (Planeta, 1997); La Antigüedad novelada (Anagrama 1995); Los orígenes de la novela (Mondadori, 1990); and Mitos, viajes, héroes (Taurus 1981). More recently he has published Las Primeras novelas: desde las griegas y las latinas hasta la edad media (Gredos, 2008), and Prometeo, mito y literatura (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2009). He is a regular collaborator in numerous national and international publications (El País, Revista de Occidente, Claves de razón prácticaRevista de Libros and Historia National Geographic, of which he is also editor). He is one of the greatest promoters of the collection of Greco-Roman classics Biblioteca Clásica Gredos, which has published more than four hundred titles to date and which is dedicated to the diffusion of the classical culture in Spanish. He has also directed the collection of universal classics Biblioteca Universal Gredos, which published some fifty titles.


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